Quebec government opens the door to gatherings of up to 250 people in COVID red zones

Approved events include board meetings, union meetings, university exams, tribunals

No weddings or parties, but Health Ministry says some 'very rare and exceptional' gatherings permitted

One of the gatherings of up to 250 people permitted in red zones under new exception would be university exams. (CBC)

The Quebec government is now allowing some gatherings of up to 250 people in COVID-19 red zones, although it says only "very rare and exceptional events" will be permitted.

The measures were quietly introduced in a ministerial decree dated Oct. 22.

That decree referred to gatherings of up to 50 people, but the ministry confirmed in a statement Wednesday that up to 250 are allowed under very limited circumstances.

The events could take place at rented facilities such as hotel meeting rooms or conventions centres.

Permitted gatherings include:

  • meetings of community groups in the health or social services sector.
  • university exams.
  • court hearings or tribunals.
  • union meetings.
  • corporate board meetings.
  • consular or diplomatic meetings.

"Only organized activities necessary and even essential for the pursuit of the activities of a public or private organization can be authorized in very rare and exceptional situations," the statement said.  

It added that social distancing and masks would be required.

The statement stressed that social gatherings such as parties or weddings are not permitted. It also said conventions, trade shows, non-essential business meetings and incentive trips were also unauthorized.

'Wrong decision at the wrong time'

Don Sheppard, director of the McGill University Interdisciplinary Initiative in Infection and Immunity, said he was extremely disappointed with the government's decision, saying it creates needless risk.

With current COVID-19 spread, now is not the time

CBC News Montreal

6 months ago
Infectious diseases specialist Dr. Don Sheppard says the province should be tightening restrictions right now, not loosening them. 0:38

"I think it's the wrong decision at the wrong time," Sheppard said.

He said the announcement of promising results for two possible vaccines for COVID-19 means there's light at the end of the tunnel, but that it's more important than ever to be careful.

"Now is not the time for us to be backing off on our restrictions. When you're in the last 10 metres of the 100-metre dash, you don't start walking," Sheppard said.

"We need to be aggressive in our control measures, not relaxing them," Sheppard said.

He added the fact that large gatherings were allowed only for very rare exceptions was little comfort.

"Using the term 'special circumstances' to justify these events is very dangerous," Sheppard said. "One thing we've learned about the epidemic: everybody feels they're special."

"It's a slippery slope and I don't think the government should be encouraging it," he added.

Some universities holding in-person exams

The news comes as universities and colleges make decisions about final exams.

While many are moving to online exams, Montreal engineering school École Polytechnique announced yesterday it would be holding exams in-person, some at the Palais de Congrès, the downtown convention centre.

Ecole Polytechnique student isn't pleased with the fact that the school is requiring some students to take exams in person, renting the Palais de Congrés. (Radio-Canada)

"Polytechnique is keen to guarantee the integrity and value of its diplomas by organizing its final evaluations with rigour and seriousness," the school said in a post on its website.

Student Laura Beaudoin doesn't like the idea, especially just before students head home for the holidays.

"We're gathering a big group of students who are going to turn around and head home. It seems certain it will really increase the risk of spreading the coronavirus," Beaudoin told Radio-Canada in an interview.


Steve Rukavina is a journalist with CBC Montreal.

With files from Chloe Ranaldi and Sébastien Desrosiers

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